Posts Tagged ‘ Sufi ’

Global Sufi Fest Attracts Thousands

As Reported by the Times of India

Soulful renderings of Sufi music by wandering minstrels from different parts of the world left the listeners spellbound here at the three-day ‘Sufi Sutra’ which ended on Sunday.

Besides Indians, Sufi singers and musicians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Syria and Tajikistan presented mystic Islam through songs, dance and poetry.

Notwithstanding the current political turmoil back home, an eight-member Egyptian Mawlawyiah troupe enthralled the audience by an audio-visual of music and circular dervish dance whirling around singers in a circle.

A Bangladeshi team, led by Anusheh Anadil, sang the household songs of the famous 18th century poet-philosopher Fakir Lalon Shah, on whom based the recent Golden Peacock winning Bengali film ‘Moner Manush’.

The ‘bauls’ and ‘fakirs’ of West Bengal’s Nadia and Murshidabad districts were huge hits by their spontaneous, simple and meaningful lyrics.

Another Bengal team led by Armaan Fakir presented the little-known ‘Bangla Qawwali’. Traditionally performed at the Dargahs, the devotional songs had ‘Dhol’ and ‘Khol’ as percussions replacing Tabla.

The first Sufi ensemble also included the ‘Warsi Brothers’ from Hyderabad, Delhi’s ‘Druv Sangari’ and team, ‘Mirs’ from Bikaner and ‘Haji Md Ahmed Khan Warsi’s team from Uttar Pradesh.

“It is a peace concert in times of violence. We want to bring a convergence of ideas about truth, harmony, self-belief and peace through music. It is a celebration of the quest for the divine through love,” organiser Amitava Bhattacharya said.

Besides musical performances, the festival included workshops and exhibitions to showcase the traditional culture, beliefs and music of the Sufi mystics.

“We had more than 10,000 people at the open-air concert, while more than 700 people, including young students, learnt about Sufism at the pre-concert workshops,” Bhattacharya said.

The event would also help the poor musicians, most of whom were from the rural areas, to earn a livelihood, he said.  The festival was organised by Banglanatak.com in collaboration.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteIt’s a sad reality that singers from a  country rich in Sufi history and traditions like Pakistan, are  unable to attend this festival due to the 60+ year friction between the two brothers India and Pakistan. They are two halves of one nation.

Cultural exchanges like these, billions in cross border trade, Bollywood and Lollywood collaborations, sports matches, etc are just some of the things the two are missing out on due to their relations. We hope one day peace can finally come to this ancient and holy land that is the subcontinent.

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Who is behind the war on Sufism?

By Dr Ehsan Azari Stanizi for Eurasia Review News & Analysis

On October 25, 2010 an al-Qaida affiliated militant group turned a majestic Sufi shrine into a bloodbath in the Punjab province of Pakistan, by detonating bombs hidden in milk cans, killing and wounding scores of innocent people. This was the latest of a spate of gruesome attacks on Sufism and dead Sufi saints this year alone, leaving hundreds of innocent people killed or wounded. Such violence has brought a new upheaval to Islam, shaking its ethical and moral foundations and reducing it to a merely a radical political ideology.

The ideological driving force behind this violence is religious extremism which considers everyone outside its ideological league, Muslim or non Muslim, dead or alive, as an enemy and an infidel deserving to be killed. The fanatics blow up ancient relics, Sufi heritage, Sufi shrines and the Sufi way of life everywhere they can. They want to micromanage social, cultural and individual life. They condemn gatherings and ceremonies in Sufi saints’ graves, shaving beards, wearing charms, music and painting as heresy. All this is like the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.

The history of Islam is not alien to violence against Sufism. The root of the current upheaval lies in Wahhabism, which has been gradually institutionalised from a tiny band of theologians into a political ideology by the Saudi ruling dynasty. The Wahhabi religious movement was originated by Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792), essentially to challenge the influence of the Ottoman Empire in the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudi petrodollars and Pakistani military ruling elite have helped the spread of this fanatical form of Islam.

In addition, the vision of this ideology was empowered in the Middle East and South Asia by another extremist movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood which originally emerged in Egypt in the 1920s. The Brotherhood copied much of its ideological agenda, political structure, revolutionary features and a violent persuasion from Marxism. Like the latter during the Cold War era, the Brotherhood’s ultimate objective has been to topple the state by violent means and extend a radical ideology to the West. The Iranian revolution of late 1970s gave further impetus to this ideology, which began to justify the export of Islamic revolution as an Islamic obligation everywhere in the world.

Like Saudi rulers, the secular Pakistani cunning and sly generals began to use the most lethal religious radicals for domestic security and as a tool to promote its foreign policy in Afghanistan and India. Pakistan served also as a gateway for the spread of Wahhabism in the region. At present they are pinching American coins in return for carrying out the Pashtun genocide.

As it was hinted, war on Sufism is not a new phenomenon. Hussein Al-Halaj, a great Sufi poet and teacher was condemned for heresy when in a state of mystical trance he exclaimed, “I am the Truth”. He was cut to pieces and his remains were burnt by a mob in Baghdad in 922 AD. He was the first Sufi martyr.

During the 17th-century Persian Safavid Empire, Sufis were suppressed, during the Indian Moguls, it flourished but in the twentieth-century the die-hard Turkish secular leader Kamal Atatürk banned Sufi monasteries and Sufi rituals in Turkey.

Sufism (comes from Arabic noun, suf, literary meaning course wool and the Sufi is the one wearing woolen garments) is the name of Islamic mysticism. The word Sufism was coined in the West for the first time by the German scholar August Tholuck in 1821. It has been divided into two practical and theoretical parts: To those who practice it, Sufism means a quick spiritual foray into a space where the presence of the divine could be experienced. To those who are concerned with its theory, it is a mystical and spiritual theology, a body of knowledge and an epistemology interwoven with Islamic metaphysical texts.

The Sufi philosophy was developed and promoted by the medieval Muslim philosophers such as Ibn-Arabi, Averroës (known in Islamic world as Ibn-i-Rushd), Avicenna and Farabi, who, for their Islamic Aristotelianism, were often referred to as the Oriental Peripatetics. This school of thought was greatly saturated with Plato and Aristotelian metaphysics. The Sufis also have created a vast body of a literary and poetic heritage.

As an elixir of wisdom and an intellectual Yoga, Sufism has been known, cherished and even practised in the West since time immemorial. It is hard to find a single great Western poet or thinker who has not been inspired by Sufism. Dr Johnson loved Sufi Oneness and pantheism; Voltaire in Candid saw Sufi philosophy as an antidote to religious extremism of his time. Goethe loved Sufi poetry, Richard Burton and Robert Graves were keen on practicing Sufism.

Sufism was cherished by Australia’s greatest poet professor Alec Derwent Hope. Hegel draws on Sufi thought in his works. Danish fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen was the first who brought the news about the Sufi music and dance known as “Whirling Dervishes” to Europe.

Nobel laureate, Doris Lessing is the doyen of contemporary Sufis in the West. She identifies Western admiration of Sufism since the 1960s as ‘a Sufi craze,’ and ‘Sufi bandwagon’. For Lessing, Sufism was a kind of universal feeling, emotion, a quick fix and an access with no intermediary. “Sufism is something one experiences on one’s own,” she would say. In my own lectures in Australia and Europe, I came across with an enormous interest in Sufi philosophy and literature.

The al-Qaida zealots and the Pakistani militants will never win over Sufism. They might destroy their tombs on earth but cannot steal away Sufism from the hearts of people in the East and the West.

The 13th-century great Sufi poet and the founder of the Whirling Dervishes, Rumi knew this. He believed that fanatics will never extinguish the Sufi torch or destroy Sufi tombs as he says “when we are dead, see not our tombs in the earth, but find it in the hearts of the people.” And the 17th-century Pashtun Sufi poet Rahman Baba, known in the West as the Nightingale-of-Peshawar to the vandals:

We are all one body, whoever tortures another, wounds himself.

Last spring (2010), his mausoleum was bombed by the Punjabi Taliban. Rumi declared the Sufi manifesto of universal love, tolerance of nonbelievers, pluralism and interfaith harmony in one of his quatrains:

Come, come whoever you are, An unbeliever, a fire or idol-worshiper, come, Our convent is not of desperation, Even if you have broken your vows a hundred time,
Come, come again.

Sufi Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Spirituality

By Fahad Faruqui for The Huffington Post

After two bombs recently claimed dozens of innocent lives at the shrine of esteemed Sufi Ali Hajviri, fingers were pointed at the al-Qaeda-linked militants who see Sufism as the work of heretics. The New York Sufi Music Festival was brought to U.S. to showcase the spiritual dimension of Islam and the rich heritage of Pakistan, counteracting a view that Pakistan is predominantly a country known for its terror factories. Sadly, the image of militants waging war is overwhelming and hard to supersede.

Hearing Abida Parveen sing Bulleh Shah’s ecstatic poetry, which enriched the centuries-old Sufi tradition of the Indus valley, made me realize how the Islamists have stripped away spirituality from the religion and left believers with rituals, sketchy interpretations of the divine laws and fear of God’s wrath. Sufi Muslims of the subcontinent, who converted to Islam in the pre-partition era, were drawn to the Sufi path of knowledge that has been hijacked by the al-Qaeda ideology of violence.

The rapturous quality of Sufi poetry continues to fascinate me, but the very idea of loving and seeking God while listening to radical mullahs (like the clerics of Red Mosque) is deeply troubling. Prostration to God devoid of spirituality is no different from doing sit-ups. Surely, the label Sufi is not necessary. What’s important is the sentiment. It helps the cause of clarity to call those on the path “Sufis” rather than “mystics,” which will more likely conjure images of Aladdin on his flying carpet.

Islam is the fastest-growing religion but has too few religious scholars with requisite understanding to link rituals and divine laws to creative spiritual ascension. I reached a level of comfort with my faith through good guidance from prominent Muslim thinkers such as Hamza Yusuf, Faraz Rabbani and Zaid Shakir, who drink deeply of the Quran’s spring of wisdom.

Faith is ineffable; so is our search for God. Ecstatic poetry and Sufi treatises speaking of “annihilation of self” and “Oneness with the Creator” are merely tools to evoke the Sufi sentiment, which is not peculiar to Islam. Teresa of Avila’s “Libro de la Vida,” Bulleh Shah’s ecstatic poetry, Allama Iqbal’s intimate conversation with God in “Shikwa” (complaint) and Mansoor Al-Hallaj’s proclamation “Anal-Haq” (I am the Truth) are all expressions of the acquired wisdom gleaned from deep introspection.

Though unsuccessful, Iqbal tried to revive the true spirit of Islam. He was quick in identifying that the hardline mullah was a hopeless case. But the Sufis were either consumed in “other worldliness” or digressing from the core of Sufism. For Iqbal, a profound religious experience is one that benefits humanity, which is most unlikely if the seeker retreats to constant seclusion.

Saudi Arabia’s government is often accused of demolishing tombs of the companions of the prophet, fearing veneration of graves, and of discouraging Muslims from praying at prominent sites like the Cave of Hira (where Muhammed received his first revelation). Why they discourage is another column, but one thing is certain: visiting graves and sites mentioned in the Quran will not miraculously lead to divine illumination. The essence of Sufism is to dig into the depths of your soul to seek the One. In the shrines of Sufi masters in the subcontinent, one can expect to find numerous vagabonds pretending to be Sufis, who earn a living by giving false hopes to troubled wives, jobless men and childless couples. This defeats the premise of Sufism — absolute reliance on Almighty.

In a phone conversation, a prominent Sufi scholar, William Chittick, said, “The core of Sufism is to strive for nearness to God.” Even though God is absolutely Other, he presupposes a direct relationship with the seeker. No doubt. Allah says in the Quran (50:16): “I am closer to you than your jugular vein.”

It is our egos that have created boundaries between sects within Islam and ensuring rivalries with non-Muslims. Reviving the spiritual dimension of Islam may be the only way to fight intolerant radical elements internally.

What Sufi Festivals Mean to the People

By Sohail Abid at http://sohailabid.com/

It is the beginning of the Hijri year. A time that matters to me for two reasons: remembering Hussain’s determination and the Sufi festivals that will be held throughout the year across Pakistan. And this year I want to do something special: to attend all the Sufi festivals and document each of them! Wish I had undertaken this project earlier in my life when the festivals were held without any fear but I wasn’t mature enough to see what they mean to the people. I, like others, considered them ‘stupid’ and ‘superstitious’ but that’s so untre. Let’s see how:

The people who actually go to the Sufi festivals don’t really call them by their urban name, Urs. They call them “mela” and it includes all kinds of activities, not just paying salam to the dead Sufi. They are *festivals* for the people, occasions to rejoice.

Last weekend, when I was on a field trip in a remote Punjabi village, a girl told me, “If you were here a couple of weeks ago, you could see our dance, Sammi; there was a wedding. We are the best in Punjab in Sammi dance! Oh, you can come to the mela next month.” Now this place, Danabad, is a small village. They remember the Sufi festival as the time they will have dance, musical concert, and what not.

On a similar visit to Chakwal, when I asked a young boy about their activities, he was so excited about this race and kabbadi they have each year. When: “during the mela”!

You see, to the people the Sufi festivals do not mean “worshipping the graves”, as some conservatives would like to put it. It is the time people await to shop, play, dance, and attend live concerts. And that’s what I would like to document because they are the events that matter to the people and keep them going. Wish me luck!

Sohail Abid is a writer, an entrepreneur, a software engineer, a cultural analyst, and a lover of all things folk. He lives in Islamabad Pakistan and manages several websites and businesses as a freelance software developer. We at Pakistanis for Peace are proud to call him a friend of the site.

For Imam in Muslim Center Furor, a Hard Balancing Act

By Anne Barnard for The New York Times

Not everyone in the Cairo lecture hall last February was buying the imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s message. As he talked of reconciliation between America and Middle Eastern Muslims — his voice soft, almost New Agey — some questioners were so suspicious that he felt the need to declare that he was not an American agent.

Muslims need to understand and soothe Americans who fear them, the imam said; they should be conciliatory, not judgmental, toward the West and Israel.

But one young Egyptian asked: Wasn’t the United States financing the speaking tour that had brought the imam to Cairo because his message conveniently echoed United States interests?

“I’m not an agent from any government, even if some of you may not believe it,” the imam replied. “I’m not. I’m a peacemaker.”

That talk, recorded on video six months ago, was part of what now might be called Mr. Abdul Rauf’s prior life, before he became the center of an uproar over his proposal for a Muslim community center two blocks from the World Trade Center. He watched his father, an Egyptian Muslim scholar, pioneer interfaith dialogue in 1960s New York; led a mystical Sufi mosque in Lower Manhattan; and, after the Sept. 11 attacks, became a spokesman for the notion that being American and Muslim is no contradiction — and that a truly American brand of Islam could modernize and moderate the faith worldwide.

In recent weeks, Mr. Abdul Rauf has barely been heard from as a national political debate explodes over his dream project, including, somewhere in its planned 15 stories, a mosque. Opponents have called his project an act of insensitivity, even a monument to terrorism.

In his absence — he is now on another Middle East speaking tour sponsored by the State Department — a host of allegations have been floated: that he supports terrorism; that his father, who worked at the behest of the Egyptian government, was a militant; that his publicly expressed views mask stealth extremism. Some charges, the available record suggests, are unsupported. Some are simplifications of his ideas. In any case, calling him a jihadist appears even less credible than calling him a United States agent.

Growing Up in America

Mr. Abdul Rauf, 61, grew up in multiple worlds. He was raised in a conservative religious home but arrived in America as a teenager in the turbulent 1960s; his father came to New York and later Washington to run growing Islamic centers. His parents were taken hostage not once, but twice, by American Muslim splinter groups. He attended Columbia University, where, during the Six-Day War in 1967 between Israel and Arab states like Egypt, he talked daily with a Jewish classmate, each seeking to understand the other’s perspective.

He consistently denounces violence. Some of his views on the interplay between terrorism and American foreign policy — or his search for commonalities between Islamic law and this country’s Constitution — have proved jarring to some American ears, but still place him as pro-American within the Muslim world. He devotes himself to befriending Christians and Jews — so much, some Muslim Americans say, that he has lost touch with their own concerns.

“To stereotype him as an extremist is just nuts,” said the Very Rev. James P. Morton, of the Church of St. John the Divine, in Manhattan, who has known the family for decades.

Since 9/11, Mr. Abdul Rauf, like almost any Muslim leader with a public profile, has had to navigate the fraught path between those suspicious of Muslims and eager to brand them as violent or disloyal and a Muslim constituency that believes itself more than ever in need of forceful leaders.

One critique of the imam, said Omid Safi, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, was that he had not been outspoken enough on issues “near and dear to many Muslims,” like United States policy on Israel and treatment of Muslims after 9/11, “because of the need that he has had — whether taken upon himself or thrust upon him — to be the ‘American imam,’ to be the ‘New York imam,’ to be the ‘accommodationist imam.’ ”

Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University, said Mr. Abdul Rauf’s holistic Sufi practices could make more orthodox Muslims uncomfortable, and his focus on like-minded interfaith leaders made him underestimate the uproar over his plans.

“He hurtles in, to the dead-center eye of the storm simmering around Muslims in America, expecting it to be like at his mosque — we all love each other, we all think happy thoughts,” Mr. Ahmed said.

“Now he has set up, unwittingly, a symbol of this growing tension between America and Muslims: this mosque that Muslims see as a symbol of Islam under attack and the opponents as an insult to America,” he added. “So this mild-mannered guy is in the eye of a storm for which he’s not suited at all. He’s not a political leader of Muslims, yet he now somehow represents the Muslim community.”

Andrew Sinanoglou, who was married by Mr. Abdul Rauf last fall, said he was surprised that the imam had become a contentious figure. His greatest knack, Mr. Sinanoglou said, was making disparate groups comfortable. At the wedding, he brought together Mr. Sinanoglou’s family, descended from Greek Christians thrown out of Asia Minor by Muslims, and his wife’s conservative Muslim father.

“He’s an excellent schmoozer,” Mr. Sinanoglou said of the imam.

Mr. Abdul Rauf was born in Kuwait. His father, Muhammad Abdul Rauf, graduated from Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the foremost center of mainstream Sunni Muslim learning. He was one of many scholars Egypt sent abroad to staff universities and mosques, a government-approved effort unlikely to have tolerated a militant. He moved his family to England, studying at Cambridge and the University of London; then to Malaysia, where he eventually became the first rector of the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

As a boy, Feisal absorbed his father’s talks with religious scholars from around the world, learning to respect theological debate, said his wife, Daisy Khan. He is also steeped in Malaysian culture, whose ethnic diversity has influenced an Islam different than that of his parents’ homeland.

In 1965, he came to New York. His father ran the Islamic Center of New York; the family lived over its small mosque in a brownstone on West 72nd Street, which served mainly Arabs and African-American converts. Like his son, the older imam announced plans for a community center for a growing Muslim population — the mosque eventually built on East 96th Street. It was financed by Muslim countries and controlled by Muslim diplomats at the United Nations — at the time a fairly noncontroversial proposition. Like his son, he joined interfaith groups, invited by Mr. Morton of St. John the Divine.

Hostage Crisis

Unlike his son, he was conservative in gender relations; he asked his wife, Buthayna, to not drive. But in 1977, he was heading the Islamic Center in Washington when he and Buthayna were taken hostage by a Muslim faction; it was his wife who challenged the gunmen on their lack of knowledge of Islam.

“My husband didn’t open his mouth, but I really gave it to them,” she told The New York Times then.

Meanwhile, the younger Mr. Abdul Rauf studied physics at Columbia. At first, he recalled in interviews last year, it was hard to adjust to American social mores. By 1967, he and a Yale student, Kurt Tolksdorf, had bonded at summer school over their shared taste in women and fast cars. But Mr. Tolksdorf said his friend never subscribed to the “free love” of the era.

When the 1967 war broke out in the Middle East, Mr. Tolksdorf said, Mr. Abdul Rauf reacted calmly when Israeli students tried to pick a fight. A classmate, Alan M. Silberstein, remembers debating each day’s news over lunch.

“He was genuinely trying to understand the interests of American Jews — what Israel’s importance was to me,” he said. “There was a genuine openness.”

In his 20s, Mr. Abdul Rauf dabbled in teaching and real estate, married an American-born woman and had three children. Studying Islam and searching for his place in it, he was asked to lead a Sufi mosque, Masjid al-Farah. It was one of few with a female prayer leader, where women and men sat together at some rituals and some women do not cover their hair. And it was 12 blocks from the World Trade Center.

Divorced, he met his second wife, Ms. Khan, when she came to the mosque looking for a gentler Islam than the politicized version she rejected after Iran’s revolution. Theirs is an equal partnership, whether Mr. Abdul Rauf is shopping and cooking a hearty soup, she said, or running organizations that promote an American-influenced Islam.

A similar idea comes up in the video of his visit to Cairo this year. Mr. Abdul Rauf, with Ms. Khan, unveiled as usual, beside him, tells a questioner not to worry so much about one issue of the moment — Switzerland’s ban on minarets — saying Islam has always adapted to and been influenced by places it spreads to. “Why not have a mosque that looks Swiss?” he joked. “Make a mosque that looks like Swiss cheese. Make a mosque that looks like a Rolex.”

In the 1990s, the couple became fixtures of the interfaith scene, even taking a cruise to Spain and Morocco with prominent rabbis and pastors.

Mr. Abdul Rauf also founded the Shariah Index Project — an effort to formally rate which governments best follow Islamic law. Critics see in it support for Taliban-style Shariah or imposing Islamic law in America.

Shariah, though, like Halakha, or Jewish law, has a spectrum of interpretations. The ratings, Ms. Kahn said, measure how well states uphold Shariah’s core principles like rights to life, dignity and education, not Taliban strong points. The imam has written that some Western states unwittingly apply Shariah better than self-styled Islamic states that kill wantonly, stone women and deny education — to him, violations of Shariah.

After 9/11, Mr. Abdul Rauf was all over the airwaves denouncing terrorism, urging Muslims to confront its presence among them, and saying that killing civilians violated Islam. He wrote a book, “What’s Right With Islam Is What’s Right With America,” asserting the congruence of American democracy and Islam.

That ample public record — interviews, writings, sermons — is now being examined by opponents of the downtown center.

Those opponents repeat often that Mr. Abdul Rauf, in one radio interview, refused to describe the Palestinian group that pioneered suicide bombings against Israel, Hamas, as a terrorist organization. In the lengthy interview, Mr. Abdul Rauf clumsily tries to say that people around the globe define terrorism differently and labeling any group would sap his ability to build bridges. He also says: “Targeting civilians is wrong. It is a sin in our religion,” and, “I am a supporter of the state of Israel.”

“If I were an imam today I would be saying, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ ” said John Esposito, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University. “ ‘Can an imam be critical of any aspect of U.S. foreign policy? Can I weigh in on things that others could weigh in on?’ Or is someone going to say, ‘He’s got to be a radical!’ ”

Deadly blasts hit Sufi shrine in Lahore

By Syed Shoaib Hasan for The BBC

Suicide bombers have launched a deadly attack on a Sufi shrine in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. At least 35 people died in the blasts at the popular Data Darbar shrine late on Thursday evening, officials say. At least 175 other people were hurt in the blasts, believed to be the first targeting a shrine in Lahore. Thousands of people were visiting the shrine at the time, officials say. It holds the remains of a Persian Sufi saint, Abul Hassan Ali Hajvery.

Although no-one has yet said they carried out the attack, Taliban militants and their Punjabi jihadi allies have been involved in several such bombings in the northern Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province. The shrine is largely frequented by members of the majority Barelvi sect, who are seen as heretics by the Taliban. Most of the Taliban belong to the rival Deoband Sunni sect, which strongly disapproves of worship at shrines. Many are also allied to the Sipah-e-Sahaba, and its armed splinter group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which seeks to turn Pakistan into a Deoband Sunni state.

The shrine is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year from both Sunni and Shia traditions of Islam. At least two attackers were involved, although police initially said three explosions had been heard.  The impact of the blasts ripped open the courtyard of the shrine. Rescue workers could be seen clambering over the rubble as they carried out the victims. Khusro Pervez, commissioner of Lahore, said two of the attacks took place in the main courtyard and one in the lower level of the shrine.

The first attacker struck in the underground area where visitors sleep and prepare themselves for prayer, he said. As people fled, a second bomber detonated his explosives in the upstairs area. Officials say they believe the bombers used devices packed with ball-bearings to maximise the impact of their attack.  A volunteer security guard at the shrine described scenes of devastation.

“It was a horrible scene,” said Mohammed Nasir. “There were dead bodies all around with blood and people were crying.” The attack is the biggest on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan since militant attacks began in 2001.  No group has said it carried out the attack, but correspondents say the attacks continue a growing trend among militants to target members of other sects as well as minorities.

Lahore has been hit by a series of bomb attacks, including a suicide blast at anti-terrorist offices in March, when at least 13 people died. In May, more than 90 people were killed in a double attack on the minority Ahmadi sect in the city.

Earlier, security chiefs had been congratulating themselves after what was the first month in two years in which there had been no suicide bombings in Pakistan, the BBC’s Aleem Maqbool reports from Islamabad.

They said it was proof the militant networks had been disrupted. Most Pakistanis knew the battle against militancy in this country was far from over, he adds. Last year Pakistan launched a major military offensive against militant strongholds in South Waziristan.  In December the military said they had achieved victory, but subsequent reports have suggested the militants remain active in the region.

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